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29 - Observant reform in religious orders

from PART VII - REFORM AND RENEWAL

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2010

Miri Rubin
Affiliation:
Queen Mary University of London
Walter Simons
Affiliation:
Dartmouth College, New Hampshire
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Summary

The period of the so-called Observant reforms (c. 1370–1500) was far more dynamic than longstanding convictions concerning the decline of religious life in the closing centuries of the Middle Ages once led us to believe. Amidst papal schisms, conciliary infighting, protracted warfare, echo-epidemics, apocalyptic expectations and heightened fears of popular heresies, many religious orders experienced a veritable renaissance, coupling aims to reclaim pristine traditions with a new pastoral and spiritual acumen. At the same time, new religious movements sprang up, whose vitality struck the imagination of contemporaries.

As the name indicates, the Observance (observantia/observantia regulae) within the orders was first and foremost a movement to return to the rules and the lifestyle of their pristine beginnings. A major motivation for this was the conviction that the orders had succumbed to decadence, by discarding loyalty to their rules, and by giving in to pressures that had allowed them to become wealthy and influential, but through which they had lost much of the spiritual ardour to fulfil the tasks for which they had been created.

For most religious orders, the Observance constituted not the first attempt at reform. In the course of time, the call for reform had sounded repeatedly. Sometimes it had been inaugurated from within, and sometimes it had been imposed from outside, as with the 1335–9 reform statutes for the religious orders issued by Pope Benedict XII.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2009

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